Tag Archives: China

Why do nations distrust/dislike China? 6 July 2014

Why do nations distrust/dislike China?     6 July 2014

Some people and nations appear to be suspicious of, or actually to dislike, China’s rise. I am wondering why. There are historical reasons: China was the major, unchallenged power in its region for thousands of years to which ‘lesser’ nations near and far—indeed, as far away as Hunza (now in northern Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir)—had to submit and pay tribute. China’s superiority and other kingdoms’ palpable inferiority entrenched two factors. First, strongly-held Chinese certainty—or arrogance, if you prefer—that the divinely-sanctioned Middle Kingdom should be paramount regionally and beyond. This was the natural order. Second, some of China’s neighbours have bad memories of being under Chinese suzerainty, which brought stability, but not necessarily freedom, mutual endearment or fraternity.

Things have changed dramatically since a popular revolution overthrew the Imperial Qing/Manchu dynasty in 1911. Thereafter, a divided China endured political, social and economic turmoil—and was weak. From the 1920s, Nationalists and Communists fought; in the early 1930s, Japan invaded Manchuria and created ‘Manchukuo’; from 1937, Chinese forces fought with the Allies in World War II. Following its 1949 victory, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consolidated its control of China, often brutally. This included Mao Zedong-inspired actions such as the Great Leap Forward and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution—which were diabolical, not great. For non-Chinese, such destabilising actions beneficially kept China politically unstable, internally focused and economically weak. Even so, the CCP’s concurrently-held belief that Communism would inevitably triumph worldwide, plus the export of revolution to help this process, did not endear China to others. And, while nations like Vietnam benefitted from Chinese (and Soviet) support against the United States, the 1979 China-Vietnam war showed that, ultimately, national interests always trump ideology. Equally, as China’s neighbour, Vietnam has long sought to avoid Chinese domination.

Matters started to change with, and for, China in the 1970s. The United Nations recognised the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the official government of China, after which the PRC obtained the General Assembly and permanent Security Council seats. In 1979, following Richard Nixon’s groundbreaking 1972 trip to ‘mainland’ China, the United States established full diplomatic relations with the PRC and severed relations with the Taiwan-based Republic of China. Most importantly, from 1978, led by the tenacious twice-purged Deng Xiaoping, China pursued a ‘socialist market economy’ that allowed capitalist practices and activities to flourish. China’s economic progress admirably has lifted millions of Chinese out of poverty, with China now being the world’s second largest economy (although in GDP per capita terms, it lags). Arguably, ‘CCP’ now stands for the ‘Chinese Capitalist Party’.

In recent years, a rising China has been seeking to convert its economic strengths into strategic and foreign policy gains. Most analysts consider that China has ambitions to become a great power, an aspiration that reflects China’s history, self-perception and its so-called ‘Middle Kingdom’ syndrome. Certainly, many Chinese want their nation to be able to resist actions by Western ‘imperialists’, many of whom formerly obtained concessions or took significant portions of Chinese territory when China was weak. Contemporaneously, China also dislikes being encircled by aggressors or enemies, actual or potential, and is trying to break out, and free itself, from this military and maritime containment. Equally, the need to secure economic resources is a driving factor.

While China is emulating the actions of other rising powers that have sought to change or enhance their geo-strategic situation, it is the way that Beijing is going about instigating these changes that worries others. China’s economic rise is clear but its strategic ambitions are not. This situation relates to a significant Chinese strength and weakness: authoritarian rule. Since 1949, various CCP and PRC organs have controlled, manipulated or suppressed all Chinese citizens, not just Tibetans and Uighurs. Since 1978, this has allowed China to advance economically, a happy development for most Chinese. Politically, however, there has been no genuine or inclusive political debate, while dissent has been suppressed. While China has other political parties, they are weak, controlled and ineffectual. According to a friend of mine, ‘it’s easy to be a martyr in China—just publicly criticise the CCP’. The most publicised and negative example of China’s authoritarian rule was the harshly suppressed 1989 Tiananmen Square protest. Other examples of state heavy-handedness apparently have gone unreported.

The weakness of China’s authoritarian rule is that, because the regime itself needs to concentrate and retain power, it is excessively secretive, self-seeking, non-consultative, extensive, and often brutal. China’s rulers paternalistically pursue policies and national interests determined by them in camera and without broad consultation or genuine or popular agreement. Elite CCP rule is difficult to influence or bend, unless it chooses to bend itself—as China pragmatically did economically in 1978. Before 1978, such ‘about turns’ were difficult to anticipate and endure.

China’s inability to tolerate dissent stifles its citizens, their creativity and China’s greatness. This authoritarianism also appears to be a major reason why China currently is mistrusted. Nations of the world, particularly those used to the rough and tumble of consultative democracy—which now comprises many of China’s near and far neighbours—want to engage in a discussion or dialogue, and not be told, or compelled, to do things China’s (authoritarian) way or not at all. China’s current excessively aggressive stance to regain, as Beijing sees it (which is partially correct in relation to its dispute with Japan), sovereignty over disputed territories in the South China Sea is antagonising Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and others.

Ultimately, China’s authoritarianism makes China look like an oppressive, self-interested regime lacking altruism that domestically dominates its people and which internationally is aggressively trying to bully other nations. This hardline approach is not endearing China to others. Conversely, it is bringing nations together and inspiring them to strategically encourage the US to stay militarily engaged with Asia—factors clearly not in China’s interests. Given its past, its size, and its one-party dominated state, it will be exceedingly difficult for China to genuinely change this way of operating.

The opinions in this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any organisations, professional or otherwise, with which I am involved or associated.

Christopher Snedden
6 July 2014


Strategic possibilities in South Asia 29 April 2014

Strategic possibilities in South Asia   29 April 2014

South Asia’s strategic future is impossible to know. Based on what has transpired, however, and reflecting on current situations, the following appears likely: 1) India-Pakistan relations will remain poor to abysmal; 2) China-India relations will remain challenging, but will continue to improve slowly over time; 3) despite the South Asian Association for Regional Association (SAARC) being formed in 1985, which grouping Afghanistan joined in 2007, the nations of South Asia will have little sense of being part of a region; 4) India will continue to dominate this ‘region’ because of its sheer size, increasing economic power and growing international stature; and, 5) the other nations of South Asia will continue to strive to develop but may struggle.

What if some, or all, of these situations were to change? Given the right set of circumstances, India and Pakistan could normalise their relationship virtually overnight. This could then lead to all of sorts of positive developments. For example, Indians and Pakistanis could readily visit one another and their respective tourist attractions; trade could flourish; each nation could downsize their militaries, paramilitaries and nuclear capabilities and put the consequent savings into national development. The challenge is getting the right circumstances. The primary factor is having politically-strong statesmen concurrently in both nations who can deliver better India-Pakistan relations to desirous citizens. Such leadership has always been difficult to achieve or produce—nor have Indian and Pakistani voters demanded it. This situation is unlikely to change soon. Increasingly, coalition governments are governing India, with the prime minister politically being only ‘first amongst equals’. In Pakistan, the military has a veto over all significant politico-strategic decisions, including any that might lessen its power or influence—as improved India-Pakistan relations almost certainly would do. Certainly, both nations have not yet concurrently had leaders who could resolve their major issues. A lot of luck and synchronicity, not to mention overcoming some significant historical baggage and mistrust, are needed for such a leadership ‘bonanza’ to occur.

A more likely scenario is a further improvement in, even a strengthening of, China-India relations. Imagine if these behemoths developed a strategic partnership and closeness, after which they essentially divided Asia between them, with China overseeing North-East Asia and the South China Sea, with India supervising South Asia and the Indian Ocean, and with both ‘monitoring’ the rest of Asia. This idea is not far-fetched, particularly given pre-9/11 talk of China, India and Russia aligning against the United States, which then almost desperately was seeking an enemy to plan operations against. Think of the sudden and seemingly unthinkable US-China rapprochement in the 1970s and the Soviet Union’s demise in the 1990s. Furthermore, while Pakistan is currently a convenient ally for China, particularly in relation to India, China is concerned about Pakistan’s instability and economic problems and Pakistani support for Muslim Uighur ‘terrorists’ in Xinjiang. India offers China many more opportunities and advantages economically and strategically. Both are wary of an assertive, encircling United States and its allies; both understand that stability and cooperation are preferable to confrontation; both have similar energy and resources requirements, and economic opportunities in Central Asia, South-East Asia, etc. For a China-India partnership to occur, both nations would have to overcome the mutual suspicion that partly results from their unresolved border and territorial issues. Western nations doing something rash or untoward—as sometimes occurs when they take the moral high ground—may ‘encourage’ both nations to embrace. South Asians themselves might embolden such an arrangement from which they almost certainly would benefit, if only because a cooperative China-India relationship could provide an economic engine for national and regional growth.

Possibilities 3, 4 and 5 are intertwined. India is unable or unwilling to lead the disparate and inherently disunified South Asia region. India’s reluctance possibly comes from its longstanding desire to be non-aligned or to decline membership of military pacts like the former Middle East-based Central Treaty Organization (CENTO). Equally, India cannot lead South Asia because other nations fear or mistrust it. This mistrust is a major factor impacting SAARC and South Asian regionalism. But just imagine if South Asia did become a unified region like the European Union. This would create a community—and an economy or market—of over 1.6 billion people. It would necessarily dilute some of the bitter post-British legacies (all South Asian nations have a historical connection with the British) and divisions and the perceived need for armaments and large militaries and paramilitaries to defend sometimes contested territory and some of these legacies. Visitors to South Asia could land in, say, Karachi, Kathmandu or Colombo and receive Customs clearance and Immigration permission to visit any other SAARC nation/s, after which they, and trade, could travel via a unified transport system overland through South Asia to South-East Asia via Myanmar, or to China via Pakistan, Nepal or India, or to Europe via Afghanistan or Iran, as happened re this latter route before the Iranian revolution and the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Similarly, India’s remote seven north-eastern states, and Nepal and Bhutan could access sea ports via transport corridors across Bangladesh, while Afghanistan and Pakistan might use Pakistani and Indian transport links to access Indian ports. In return, India and other nations could access Central Asia via both nations. Borders would be less relevant and joint fishing, sea and water projects would be achievable. The possibilities are endless—and phenomenal. Meanwhile, lacking such cooperation and integration, South Asia’s nations continue to fall far short of their individual and collective potentials. They strive to develop, but struggle.

One day, South Asians may wake up and say to their leaders and governments: “Enough is enough. We need to overcome the antipathies and hindrances that have held us back as nations and as a region. Do the needful you politicians—immediately.” Since the British ended their Indian Empire some 65 years ago, much needs to be achieved. Thinking and acting differently would help. So too would some serious pondering of future possibilities and opportunities.

Christopher Snedden
29 April 2014

Actual and Perceptional ‘Borders’ in J&K 22 January 2014



Map above from The Economist, 8 February 2012, www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/05/indian_pakistani_and_chinese_border_disputes


Actual and Perceptional ‘Borders’ in J&K     22 January 2014

The dispute over the international status of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is old, complicated and convoluted. India and Pakistan have been engaged in this matter emotionally, diplomatically and militarily from before the British left the Indian subcontinent in August 1947. J&K was then important to them because the princely state—commonly called ‘Kashmir’ after its most famous region—was prestigious. In 1947, J&K was India’s largest princely state. It had international borders with Afghanistan, China and (then independent) Tibet; the USSR’s Tajikistan Republic was nearby to the north. Some major rivers flowed through J&K: the Indus, Jhelum and Chenab. Finally, J&K would share post-partition borders with Pakistan and India, albeit short with India, with both nations wanting to include the princely state in their territory.

In the finish, neither nation secured all of J&K. Since 1947, the former princely state has been militarily-divided between India, which controls Jammu, the Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, and Pakistan, which administers Azad (Free) Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. China controls two areas nominally under J&K’s control in 1947: Aksai Chin and Shaksgam. Officially, India claims all of the territory ‘occupied’ by Pakistan and China because the ruler of J&K, Maharaja Sir Hari Singh, acceded to India on 26 October 1947. For New Delhi, all of J&K is an ‘integral part of India’. Pakistan is administering ‘its’ areas until a United Nations-supervised plebiscite can be held to determine whether the people of J&K want ‘their’ state, in its entirety, to join India or Pakistan. India and China, as part of their ongoing territorial and border negotiations, are discussing Aksai Chin. Beijing has said that it will renegotiate its control of Shaksgam should India and Pakistan resolve their dispute over J&K.

Interestingly, but problematically, India and Pakistan each has a different perception as to what comprises the former princely state. Official Indian maps show all of J&K as being Indian territory, even though civilian Indians have never set foot in areas outside India’s control: Azad Kashmir; Gilgit-Baltistan; Aksai Chin; Shaksgam. Official Pakistani maps show the Gilgit Agency as not being part of the ‘disputed territory’ of J&K. (Such maps also often show Junagadh and Manavadar, whose rulers acceded to Pakistan in 1947, as being Pakistan’s.) Although the British controlled the Gilgit Agency from the 1880s, they publicly returned (or retroceded) control of this territory to the Maharaja of J&K on 1 August 1947. Therefore, Gilgit is part of J&K, and of the Kashmir dispute.

India is fussy about maps of J&K, with New Delhi sometimes insisting that publications must use its official map of the former princely state. In 2012, New Delhi censored editions of The Economist that included a map showing the actual situation on the ground in disputed J&K  (like the map above), rather than showing all of J&K as being Indian territory. For this reason, I chose not include any maps in my book about Azad Kashmir that was published internationally in 2012, and in Pakistan and India in 2013.

Another issue is terminology. The India-Pakistan dispute over J&K is known as ‘the Kashmir dispute’ because, when the princely state was created in 1846, the most prestigious and reasonably autonomous part of the entity was Kashmir. Fairly quickly thereafter, both J&K and its rulers came to be called ‘Kashmir’. For this reason, although the dispute over J&K should be called the ‘Jammu and Kashmir dispute’, it is known instead as the ‘Kashmir dispute’. Otherwise, when Indians use the term ‘Kashmir’, they are referring to the Kashmir Valley that India controls and which Pakistan desires. For Indians, residents of Kashmir are ethnic Kashmiris. When Pakistanis use the term ‘Kashmir’, they may be referring to the Kashmir Valley. More often, they are referring to the entire former princely state. Similarly, when Pakistanis use the term ‘Kashmiri’, they may be referring to an ethnic Kashmiri. More often, they are referring to a resident of the former princely state. Pakistanis also talk of an ‘Azad Kashmiri’. This is a resident of the ‘Azad Kashmir’ region who, more often than not, is not an ethnic Kashmiri.

Neither India nor Pakistan knows how—nor seemingly is prepared—to resolve their dispute over J&K. Pakistan officially wants the UN plebiscite held, which is untenable for India. Conversely, India wants it and Pakistan to resolve this bilateral matter, although unofficially Pakistan might like mediation by a third party, possibly the United States, which also is untenable for India. However, the Kashmir dispute already has trilateral aspects. J&K-ites (my term for the people of J&K) are the third party to this dispute. Furthermore, in 1963, Pakistan ceded territory that India considers to be its to China; since 1948, the UN Security Council has been involved with India and Pakistan re J&K and could, if desired, re-open this matter sidelined since 1965; and, the UN has its Military Observer Group that monitors the Line of Control that divides J&K into Indian and Pakistan-administered areas.

Having been involved analysing the Kashmir dispute since 1984, I know that this issue generates considerable argument among Indians, Pakistanis and J&K-ites. Surprisingly, I have found only one matter about which India and Pakistan agree in their entire dispute over J&K: that neither J&K, nor any part of it, can have independence. This ‘agreement’ is counter to the azadi (independence) that some, perhaps many, J&K-ites living in places such as Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and Mirpur, may desire. That said, we don’t know what status, or statuses, J&K-ites actually want as they have never been asked this question in any inclusive or conclusive way. Indeed, J&K-ites are the forgotten element of the Kashmir dispute—even though they actually instigated the fight over J&K’s international status before India or Pakistan was officially involved in the state and even though this fight is over their lands. This makes J&K-ites the first party to the Kashmir dispute—a fact not recognised, or forgotten, by India and Pakistan. When it comes to J&K, there is little agreement between anyone, it seems.

Christopher Snedden
22 January 2014

India-Pakistan nuclear war; 15 January 2014

India-Pakistan nuclear war; 15 January 2014

When I worked in intelligence in the 1980s, one major matter that analysts wanted to qualify was how far India had advanced its military nuclear program since its ‘peaceful nuclear test’ in 1974. We also were trying to determine what nuclear capabilities Pakistan had developed in response to India’s. There was much research, informed analysis and some sheer guess-timating. Most analysts believed that both nations were actively developing credible nuclear capabilities for their respective military forces’ use.

In May 1998, India and Pakistan ended the mystery for analysts when they both conducted nuclear tests. These confirmed unequivocally that both nations had significant nuclear capabilities. Since then, analysts have speculated about how many nuclear weapons each nation has, where and how various nuclear components are stored, and the weapons’ state of readiness. Current best guesses are that India has 90-100 nuclear weapons; Pakistan has 100-120. Pakistan’s numerical superiority reflects its military’s attempt to reduce its conventional inferiority in relation to India by having a larger nuclear-weapon capability. This, presumably, make these Pakistanis feel more secure.

For some time, both nations also have been developing missiles to enable them to better deliver their nuclear weapons. Initially, aircraft were to be used. Now, India and Pakistan have ballistic missiles that enable their ‘nukes’ to be delivered further, more accurately and without aircrew. Consequently, all parts of each nation now are vulnerable to nuclear attack. Additionally, India is developing a capability to deliver nuclear weapons from submarines, a significant force multiplier that Pakistan will find difficult, and costly, to counter. This development reflects India’s stronger economy, plus its need to counter China, which started acquiring nuclear weapons from 1964 after its first atomic test. China developed such weapons as it felt threatened by the Soviet Union or by the United States. But China’s atomic test inspired India, which now apparently has also developed a ‘second strike’ nuclear capability to deter China from ever attacking India first. India’s nuclear developments, in turn, inspired Pakistan. Thus developed the China-India-Pakistan nuclear triangle in which two of the three sides are unequally balanced against India.

For some people, the term ‘nuclear weapon’ seemingly is benign. They argue that nuclear weapons have brought peace to the world as no nuclear-armed nations have yet directly fought a war against each other. (There have been indirect wars using proxies, such as the Soviet Union’s use of Vietcong against US forces in Vietnam and the US’s use of mujahideen against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.) This argument is dangerous and fallacious. It is dangerous because it will only take one limited nuclear war to inflict enormous damage on both belligerents and their citizens, plus on the rest of the world. It is fallacious as India and Pakistan engaged in a limited war in the Kargil area of Jammu and Kashmir in 1999, one year after both nations’ major nuclear tests confirmed their nuclear intentions. However, this war did not look like going nuclear, partly because of significant world pressure and partly because Islamabad (fallaciously) claimed that local ‘militants’ only were fighting Indian forces. Because of their irregular nature, such militants would not possess nuclear weapons.

People who consider nuclear weapons to be benign should remember that these are considered to be ‘weapons of mass destruction’. I sometimes wonder if Indians and Pakistanis—and, indeed, other world citizens—realise this. Many seem to unequivocally support their respective nation’s nuclear and ballistic programs, and their strategic doctrines for use of these serious ‘killers’. Nevertheless, should India and Pakistan ever fight a limited nuclear war, there will be some major, and ongoing, ‘mass’ destruction. Millions of subcontinentals directly will be killed. Even more millions will be directly and indirectly irradiated, burnt, injured, and made homeless and destitute. Irradiated agricultural lands will become unproductive; polluted water will be unfit for agriculture or human consumption; infrastructure will be destroyed. All survivors will suffer other depravations, including a severe lack of medical assistance, food shortages, little or no physical and administrative help, and lawlessness as desperate people seek to survive. Even worse, one nuclear exchange may lead to another, and another.

The ramifications of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan are horrific to contemplate. Equally, such a nuclear ‘winter’ confronts all nuclear-armed nations that may go to war. Currently, ten nations have, or possibly have, military nuclear capabilities: China; France; India; Iran; Israel; North Korea; Pakistan; Russia; United Kingdom; United States. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative (Nuclear Materials Security Index: Building a Framework for Assurance, Accountability, and Action, Second Edition, January 2014, http://ntiindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/2014-NTI-Index-Report1.pdf), 15 states also have one kilogram or more of ‘weapons-usable nuclear materials’ with which to create a nuclear weapon: Australia; Argentina; Belarus; Belgium; Canada; Germany; Italy; Japan; Kazakhstan; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; South Africa; Switzerland; Uzbekistan. The world is awash in nuclear weapons. A massive ‘over-kill’ capability exists.

However, the difference between India and Pakistan and most other nations having nuclear weapons is that, generally, the latter lack significant ‘flashpoints’ that could ‘spark’ a war that may go nuclear. Potential India-Pakistan flashpoints include: another serious terrorist incident in India that Indians feel Pakistan is responsible for; serious and destabilising internal insurgent activities perceived to be sponsored by the ‘other’ nation (i.e. the ‘foreign hand’); military incidents across the Line of Control that escalate and get out of hand; military maneuvers that get of control a la India’s ‘Operation Brasstacks’ in 1986; and, severe Pakistani disgruntlement that India is not releasing water to downstream Pakistan. A few years ago, General Musharraf stated that such a water scenario ‘would cross the nuclear threshold’. That is, Pakistan would use a nuclear weapon against India to ensure Pakistan’s water supplies. Musharraf also said that, in the event of war with India, Pakistan would use nuclear weapons to defend itself if its ‘back was against the wall’.

Such scenarios offer India and Pakistan significant reasons to try to improve, and ultimately normalise, their vexed relationship.

Christopher Snedden
15 January 2014

The Indo-Pacific ‘region’ and India; 29 November 2013



The Indo-Pacific ‘region’ and India;      29 November 2013

‘Indo-Pacific’ has recently entered security and international relations terminology. While the term means different things to different people—a formal map representing this amorphous ‘region’ does not yet exist—the concept basically seeks to tie the Pacific and Indian oceans into one arc or region. Significant trade passes through these two major world oceans. Most importantly, major energy supplies are transported from the Persian Gulf (or Arabian Gulf, as some Arabs call it) region to North-East Asia. For China, Japan and South Korea, this makes both oceans, their strategic ‘choke’ points (entrances/exits), and the Indo-Pacific concept, significant.

For Australia, the ‘Indo-Pacific’ comprises the area between the western Pacific Ocean and the western Indian Ocean up to, and including, the entire east coast of Africa. For nations in North-East Asia, the Indo-Pacific stretches from somewhere in the Indian Ocean to the North Pacific Ocean. For the United States, the ‘region’ goes from Hawaii to the west coast of the Indian peninsular. This includes US territories, such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands to the east of the Philippines, and coincides with the area of responsibility for US Pacific Command (PACOM), although this doesn’t include the strategically important Persian Gulf, which is CENTCOM’s responsibility. PACOM’s commander apparently uses the term ‘Indo-Asia-Pacific’. This begs the question: what comprises Asia (which has varying definitions)? Equally, it may suggest the real purpose behind the concept: engaging or enticing India into an active maritime role in this ‘region’, possibly in relation to negating China.

One nation that is cleverly using the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is Indonesia. While the ‘Indo’ refers to the ‘Indian’ in the Indian Ocean, it also could be short for Indonesia. Geographically, this nation, along with Malaysia and Singapore, sits astride the important Malacca Strait waterway linking the Indian and Pacific oceans. For Jakarta, the Indo-Pacific is ‘bounded by Japan in the north, Australia in the south-east and India in the south-west, notably with Indonesia at its centre’. For Jakarta, a major issue is how to keep this region ‘pacific’, given that it confronts a deficit of ‘strategic trust’, unresolved territorial claims, and the rapid transformation of regional states and their relationships.[1]

The difficulty with the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is that it appears to be a Western construct. It supports the US’s ‘pivot’ of its foreign policy focus from the Middle East/South-West Asia area back more easterly to the Asia-Pacific. Australia particularly, which suffers from deep feelings of insecurity, appears to be pushing the term’s use, partly to ensure that its ‘great and powerful friend’, the US, remains actively involved in Australia’s area of prime strategic concern. Increasingly, this area includes the Indian Ocean, mainly because of the rise of India and this nation’s increasing maritime capabilities. India already has strategic reach because it possesses the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an offshore territory astride the western entrance to the Malacca Strait. It also is enhancing its ability to project maritime power by building a ‘blue-water’ navy. This includes aircraft carriers (which Australia had long ago) and nuclear-powered and/or nuclear-armed submarines (which Australia has never had). India’s increasing maritime capability makes Canberra nervous. Australia’s population is largely based on the eastern Pacific seaboard, with populations (Perth, chiefly) on, and territories in, the Indian Ocean. Australia therefore needs a two-ocean navy. Canberra doesn’t (openly) see any malevolent Indian intent in the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, it is prudently watching India and trying judiciously to engage this increasingly important nation. Canberra is partially doing so through its pragmatic use of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’.

This term, however, is problematic for China, particularly as a Melbourne-based body considers the ‘Indo-Pacific’ to be a ‘US-centric … regional security construction’ that omits China. Beijing is wary of China being encircled by hostile nations and dislikes the strong, ongoing, presence of the United States in the region. China will resist being contained in the way that the US achieved with the USSR. Beijing therefore is being vigilant as Washington attempts to rebalance US foreign policy to the Indo-Pacific. To maximise long-term regional security and make this body more inclusive, the Melbourne body suggests that the term should be made the ‘New Indo-Pacific’,[2] in which China would clearly be a participant.

Nevertheless, because the ‘Indo-Pacific’ includes both the Pacific and the Indian oceans—which is one point of agreement for all users of the term—China effectively has been given permission for its People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN; a convoluted term, if ever there was one) to operate in, and throughout, the latter ocean. This, conversely, gives India approval to operate in the Pacific Ocean, including the volatile South China Sea where serious territorial disputes involve China and some Indian friends, such as Vietnam. To placate all nations involved with this concept, the Indo-Pacific needs to be inclusive, transparent and open. Misunderstandings could be costly.

If India is serious about operating freely in the Indian and Pacific oceans—which aspiration is not certain, but which the US and Australia seemingly welcome—its ability to do so would be enhanced by India having settled land borders. The US enjoys this major advantage over both China and India. Settled land borders enables the US Navy to operate freely throughout the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans without the US having to ‘watch its back’ on land. Conversely, India has longstanding border and territorial disputes with China and Pakistan, against which nations, potentially, the Indian military may need to fight a two front-war. Should PLAN ever decide to attack a strategically over-stretched Indian Navy in the South China Sea, India might need to fight a three-front war. Similarly, China, which has a number of potential or actual inimical neighbours (Russia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Myanmar, India;), plus the US Navy to deal with, might face a similar dilemma with PLAN in the Pacific or Indian oceans.

The faddish Indo-Pacific concept offers possibilities. Equally, more circumspection, and less circumlocution, is currently needed. Circumspice!

Christopher Snedden
29 November 2013

[1] See H.E. Dr. Marty Natelagawa, An Indonesian Perspective on the Indo-Pacific, Washington D.C., 16 May 2013, available at http://csis.org/files/attachments/130516_MartyNatalegawa_Speech.pdf.

[2] Dennis Rumley, editor, The Indian Ocean Region: Security, Stability and Sustainability in the 21st Century, Melbourne, Australia India Institute, March 2013, pp. 13, 29

Unleashing Monsters 29 October 2013

Unleashing Monsters                                                                    29 October 2013

It is interesting teaching undergraduates. My students generally are young—mostly under twenty-years old—with little knowledge about many world issues or events that I take for granted. One matter is the long finished, but strategically challenging, Cold War. Many young people do not realise that, in 1988, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had 45,000 nuclear warheads. Its competitor, the United States (US), ‘only’ had 22,000, although these apparently were technologically superior. Both superpowers could deliver these highly-destructive weapons using long-range or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Surprisingly for my students, the USSR had probably targeted Australian cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. A certain target was the important Australia-US intelligence facility at Pine Gap, Northern Territory. Some Western strategists considered that, given the closeness of Australia-US relations, Moscow could send a strong message to Washington by ‘nuking’ an Australian city. The Soviets may have believed that such an act might not have provoked any US retaliation. Thankfully, this ‘monster’ was never unleashed. Nevertheless, my students’ unease continued when I told them that Russia, the chief inheritor of all things Soviet, still has 8,000 nuclear weapons. (The US ‘only’ has about 5,000 nukes.) Post-Cold War, a Russian nuclear attack against Australia is highly unlikely. Equally, Australia’s ability to deter any nuclear attack has not improved one iota. Australia still does not have nuclear weapons, while North Korea, India and Pakistan are now possible nuclear threats. Canberra still considers that Australia is under the US’s ‘nuclear umbrella’, and therefore is protected. What this arrangement fully entails has never been tested.

Another matter that my youthful students know little about is how some nation-states create organisations that come back to ‘bite’ them. Consider Al-Qa’ida (‘the Base’). Western nations, including Australia and the US, funded, armed and/or trained mujahideen fighters who fought, and ultimately defeated, the Red Army that the USSR deployed in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. In the context of the Cold War, Afghanistan offered Washington a great opportunity to use proxies to weaken its global rival. The US also may have been seeking revenge for its defeat by Communist forces, supported by the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, in south Vietnam. Thus, the US used Pakistan as its chief conduit to funnel arms and ammunition to the vehemently anti-Soviet Afghan mujahideen. Soon after the USSR withdrew its forces from Afghanistan, the ‘evil [USSR] empire’, as Ronald Reagan called it, collapsed and the Cold War ended. The resilient mujahideen had played an important part fighting the Red Army, draining the USSR’s exchequer, creating war fatigue among Soviet citizens, and in showing that the USSR was not as strong or benevolent as its propaganda suggested.

Interestingly, some mujahideen had been inspired to go to fight in the anti-Soviet jihad (holy war) Afghanistan by Muslims living there. This included two men in Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK; ‘Services office’), a group formed in 1984: Abdullah Azzam, the Palestinian ‘father of global jihad’, and Osama bin Laden, a rich Saudi Arabian. Their intention was to garner funds and gather Muslims to fight the ‘Godless’ Red Army. More importantly—at least in the current context of world terrorism—MAK morphed into Al-Qa’ida. It benefitted from MAK’s network, contacts and skills, which have produced ‘kills’. This ‘monster’ was responsible for the complex and well executed—but terrible and tragic—terrorist incidents that stunned US and world citizens on 11 September 2001.

In explaining Al-Qa’ida’s motives, my students struggle to understand some things. First, that a small number of Muslims on the extreme fringe of this generally peaceful religion are so disenchanted that they plan and attack innocent civilians. Second, that these anti-social Muslims justify their stance because they believe that the West has long exploited, suppressed or denigrated Muslims and/or has excessively, unquestioningly supported Israel or repressive pro-US regimes in the Middle East/South-west Asia. Third, that the morals and activities of the West are not always superior to those of the terrorists. Indeed, the Wests’ pursuit of the ‘moral high ground’ is sometimes questionable, as evidenced by the current spying saga involving the US’s National Signals Agency’s spying on supposed US allies. (Equally, in the West’s defence, we know about such activities because Western citizens generally enjoy a free media, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.)

Al-Qa’ida is not the first organisation, or ‘monster’, unleashed on people that has come back to ‘bite’ its initial supporters. In the 1980s, a Sikh, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, and his followers who sought an independent Sikh state of ‘Khalistan’ in north-western India, allegedly were creations of Indira Gandhi—as Bharatiya Janata Party leaders again recently claimed. The Sikh bodyguards who assassinated India’s prime minister in 1984 did so because Mrs Gandhi had ordered the Indian Army to enter Amritsar’s Golden Temple and ‘remove’ Bhindranwale holed up there. Similarly, India may have trained dissident Tamils from Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. These Tamils, particularly those in the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, nevertheless willingly killed soldiers in the Indian Peace Keeping Force sent by New Delhi to pacify northern Sri Lanka from 1987 to 1990. Most significant is the Taliban. In the 1990s, Pakistan’s prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, and the Pakistan Army’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate ‘empowered’ talibs (religious students) in north-western Pakistan and Afghanistan. In recent times, Islamabad has clumsily classified these men as ‘good Taliban’, comprising those who support Pakistan’s position in/re Afghanistan, and ‘bad Taliban’, who attack Pakistanis and destabilise Pakistan. The bad Taliban’s ‘successes’ possibly include the devastating assassination of Ms Bhutto herself in 2007. Most recently, they may have been responsible for assassinating Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Law Minister, Israrullah Gandapur. Unleashing brutal covert organisations whose members are loyal chiefly only to themselves can be dangerous.

Christopher Snedden
29 October 2013

Fluidity in South Asian matters 23 October 2013

Fluidity in South Asian matters                                                   23 October 2013

Currently, there is considerable fluidity in South Asian matters. Various South Asian nations, and their leaders, as well as other nations involved with South Asia, chiefly the United States, are considering the region’s future and their nation’s situation in this. Nations also are attempting to shore up their strategic positions in relation to their neighbours and other ‘players’. It is interesting times in South Asia.

Starting with Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has been in Washington talking with United States’ Secretary of State, John Kerry. He also is scheduled to talk with President Obama. Discussion items include the US’s use of drones to attack targets in north-western Pakistan and the strategic and economic aspects of the US-Pakistan relationship. The use of drones is an emotive issue in Pakistan, with many Pakistanis disliking the ‘collateral damage’ that these unmanned, silent, indiscriminatory killers cause to non-combatants. One consequence is that disenchanted Pakistani youth have joined ‘fundamentalist’-type organisations that oppose both the United States and Pakistan. These extra-legal groups have mounted significant attacks throughout Pakistan. Pakistan would like these attacks, and drone strikes, to lessen.

No doubt, Mr Sharif also has been trying to ascertain what presence—actual and emotional—that US forces will have in Afghanistan after their drawdown next year from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This involves pondering how much the US will choose to engage with Pakistan. Mr Kerry recently had talks with Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, with 10,000 being the possible number of US troops to remain in Afghanistan post-US drawdown. This will mean that Afghans will chiefly be responsible for ensuring Afghanistan’s security. Mr Karzai intends to call a Loya Jirga of senior Afghans to ratify any US-Afghanistan agreement, thereby spreading the political responsibility and possibly not impairing the electoral prospects of his elder brother, Qayum Karzai, who is one of ten remaining candidates for Afghanistan’s important presidential election next April. Already, however, Afghan security forces are confronting serious problems with the far-from-placated Taliban, with soldiers defecting in large numbers, and with an inability to maintain hi-tech equipment supplied by ISAF. Afghanistan also confronts an unstable political situation, a poor economy with limited prospects, and unhelpful meddling of outside nations in its affairs.

Pakistan hopes that, post-ISAF, US involvement with it will continue. Pakistan has significant troubles with its economy and with terrorism. For many Pakistanis, however, the US is a ‘fair weather friend’ unable or unwilling to proffer major support on an ongoing basis in the way that Pakistan’s ‘all weather friend’, China, does. The US has its own budgetary difficulties. Equally, Washington first and foremost acts in the US’s best interests. During the ‘Global War on Terror’, this necessitated the US having a strategic relationship with Pakistan, chiefly to facilitate the movement of materiel across Pakistan to its remote neighbour, Afghanistan. Pakistan’s strategic importance will reduce dramatically after the bulk of ISAF’s forces leave Afghanistan next year. History also suggests that the US’s interest in Pakistan will thereafter diminish. Aggrieved Pakistanis point to Washington’s lack of support in Pakistan’s 1965 and 1971 wars with India and the US’s rapid withdrawal from Pakistan after the USSR withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Washington will have to work hard—and be generous—to placate Islamabad’s great fears.

Whether the US chooses to do so remains to be seen as there also is disenchantment in Washington with Pakistan. Some US policy makers consider that Pakistan has played a double game with the US: it has facilitated the movement of US materiel to Afghanistan while also supporting and protecting pro-Pakistan/anti-Afghan/anti-ISAF forces such as the Haqqani network, the Afghan Taliban (whose shura (leadership) allegedly has obtained sanctuary around Quetta), and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. For Pakistanis, these covert actions amount to Islamabad acting strategically in the national interest. Pakistan perpetually fears an unstable Afghanistan in which inimical forces, particularly Indian, meddle to Pakistan’s disadvantage. Islamabad therefore must shore up Pakistan’s position there, in whatever ways possible. The use of proxies has been reasonably effective and cost-effective. Similarly, however, Afghanistan, which seeks good relations with India, may have been using proxies in border areas against Pakistan.

For India, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh is currently in China where he will sign an agreement to reduce tension along the Line of Actual Control (LOAC) separating both nations. Despite their complex strategic situations, China-India relations are good: two-way trade is burgeoning; LOAC tensions are being managed; rivalry is downplayed. Certainly, neither aspiring great power wants an economically-devastating ‘hot war’. Singh’s business in Beijing follows his visit to Russia, where he and President Vladimir Putin reiterated that India and Russia enjoy a ‘strategic partnership’ that should be enhanced in key areas such as rocket, missile and naval technologies. Depending on which political coalition wins next year’s Indian elections,* the India-Russia relationship should continue to be strong, if only because India chooses to have relations with a variety of nations rather than totally and unwaveringly aligning with one nation in the way that Pakistan has done with China or Australia has with the United States.

*(Bangladesh also is to have general elections later this year-early next year if the ruling Awami League government can agree to caretaker arrangements; the Maldives is to have presidential elections in early November if the Police allow these to take place; Nepal is to conduct its long-delayed constituent elections on 19 November.)

Despite a longstanding commitment to non-alignment, some Indians and Americans want their nations to embrace, or even align, economically and strategically. This chiefly is because of China, although this is rarely openly stated. Pakistan will be a major loser out of any Indo-US strategic arrangement, along with Russia, if only because India could obtain access to significant US weaponry and technology. Not surprisingly, therefore, both Pakistan and Russia have engaged in some high-level discussions in recent months to develop their relationship which, previously, has been cool because of Pakistan’s better relations with the US and India’s with Russia.

This relates to a further factor compounding South Asian matters: President Obama’s conversation in September with Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new and supposedly less hardline president. Any US-Iran rapprochement makes Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states, and Israel, very nervous. Conversely, this may make things easier for Pakistan and India, both of which have high energy needs that Iran could partially supply via the Iran-Pakistan-Iran (IPI) gas pipeline. The pipeline has been built on the Iranian side, but not in Pakistan, which section Russia has offered to build. Because of US pressure, India had decided not to join IPI. However, given improving Iran-US relations and the desire to strengthen India-US relations, this might change. Such a move also might start to bring Iran ‘in from the (international) cold’.

In strategic affairs, anything is possible. There are (at least) three maxims: each nation acts in its own national interests; nothing stays the same forever; and, ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’.

Christopher Snedden
23 October 2013